el nino fern aquarium

While it is relatively new to the scene, the El Nino fern plant is becoming a popular aquatic plant for aquarium hobbyists. These plants can survive in both a submerged environment, as well as semi-aquatic with the leaves out of the water. In today’s article, I will review how to care for an El Nino fern in an aquarium, and whether or not I recommend growing it.


el nino fern
el nino fern aquarium plant

The El Nino fern has bright green leaves that typically grow in sets of 3. While they range in size, they are usually anywhere from 4-12 inches tall.

Some believe it has a similar appearance to java fern, but just with thicker leaves. Most El Nino ferns have at least 6-7 stems attached to the root, making it a pretty dense plant.

El Nino fern aquarium care

The El Nino fern is relatively easy to care for and is a great plant for beginners. The key is to provide the right substrate, light, and temperature.

You may also need to provide liquid fertilizer and CO2 to your aquarium.

Substrate for El Nino fern

El Nino ferns do not require a substrate to grow. In fact, substrate can actually be harmful to the plant and cause it to rot. For this reason, it is best to attach El Nino ferns to parts of your aquarium, such as rocks, driftwood, or directly on the aquarium glass. The easiest way to do this is by using aquarium glue, but you can also use fishing line to tie the roots down on an object. After a couple days, the plant’s roots will start growing around the object to help keep it attached.

For my El Nino fern, I decided to glue it to a small rock, which I then put on top of my substrate.

If you do put your El Nino fern in your substrate, it’s important that you make sure the Rhizome (thick part of the root), is not buried under the substrate. Only allow the long string parts of the root to go under the substrate. This can be difficult in the beginning, because your El Nino fern will likely not be stable and can fall over frequently. This is why I prefer to attach to objects instead.


el nino fern lighting

El Nino ferns require little light to grow, which is another reason why it is an easy plant to grow in an aquarium. If your tank has some access to natural sunlight, that will probably be enough. If not, you might want to invest in an LED light, and just keep it on the low light setting.

It’s important that you don’t provide too much light, as this can actually cause the leaves to rot. It can also cause algae to grow on the plant, which can inhibit its growth.


Luckily, El Nino ferns have a pretty wide temperature range that they can grow in. They typically do well in water between 70 and 82 degrees fahrenheight. It is a little better to err on the warmer side, so 75-82 degrees is usually the best range.

C02 and liquid fertilizer for El Nino ferns

CO2 for el nino fern

Like every other aquatic plant, El Nino ferns require CO2 to growth. This is a vital part of photosynthesis, and they cannot grow without access to CO2.

Luckily, El Nino ferns don’t require a lot of CO2 compared to other plants. For this reason, you will probably be fine without adding CO2 to your tank. You can help increase the CO2 levels naturally by having a lot of water surface are and adding fish or snails to your tank.

If your El Nino fern does start to decay, there is a chance the CO2 levels are too low. You can learn more about this in my guide on why aren’t my aquarium plants growing.

The quickest way to fix this is with a liquid CO2 additive.

It is also beneficial to add liquid nutrients to your aquarium every so often to help aid the growth of your El Nino fern. These liquid nutrients provide your plants with essential compounds such as potassium and iron.

What to do if your El Nino fern is dying or not growing?

dying el nino fern

There are a couple things you can do if your El Nino fern starts to die. For starters, I would suggest moving it to a different part of the tank. There is a chance that you don’t have the proper lighting in the current position.

If there are leaves that are completely dead, you should trim them off to help provide more nutrients for the leaves that are still alive.

You should also make sure that the rhizome part of the root is not submerged under the substrate. This is a common turtle care mistake that people make, and it will usually cause your fern to rot.

Additionally, as mentioned earlier, you can try adding CO2 or liquid nutrients to the water. While this can be a quick fix, it’s important to find out the underlying problem so that you don’t have to add stuff to your water every day.

If you have fish or turtles in your aquarium, you should make sure that they are not nibbling on the plant. If they continue to bite the leaves, you might just have to get a different type of plant that they are not as attracted to. That being said, the El Nino fern is a good plant for a turtle tank because turtles usually don’t like the taste.

Lastly, you should do a check of your water chemistry. The first thing you should do is make sure that the water temperature is between 70 and 82 degrees. Next, you should test your water to make sure it has the proper elements, including nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, iron, and magnesium. You should also check to make sure your pH level is between 6 and 7.5.

Where to buy El Nino Fern aquarium plant?

While El Nino ferns aren’t very popular, most pet stores (including Petco and PetSmart) carry El Nino now. You can also buy it from amazon. They usually cost anywhere from $5 to $15.

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